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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Modern slavery expert to speak at Gonzaga

A nationally recognized expert on sex trafficking and modern slavery will share his view Tuesday of what life is like for the victims of a grim and growing business around the world.

Siddharth Kara, a well-traveled author and academic who has focused on the issue for 14 years, will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center as part of the Gonzaga University Presidential Speaker Series.

Kara’s first book on the topic was published in 2009 and featured a business and economic analysis of contemporary slavery worldwide, along with firsthand accounts of many trafficking victims he interviewed.

Kara’s interest in the topic developed in 1995 when he volunteered in a Bosnian refugee camp for eight weeks as part of an undergraduate service experience at Duke University. There he began learning about the Bosnian women who had been raped by Serbian soldiers and trafficked by the truckloads to brothels across Europe.

The personal development Kara underwent is one of the reasons Thayne McCulloh, president of Gonzaga, invited Kara to speak on campus. McCulloh said he’d been reading and learning about trafficking issues and decided he wanted someone with legitimate credentials and experiences to talk here. The way Kara’s undergraduate experience influenced his development and led him to become more than just an activist in the arena of trafficking is a unique story with particular relevance to a college audience, he said.

“Monumental amounts of money” are being spent for the purposes of sex and bonded labor, McCulloh said. “Human exploitation is an appropriate topic for our students.”

Kara said he wants to help the Gonzaga audience understand the compelling economic logic of trafficking and the immense economic rewards for the exploitation.

“It’s not just happening elsewhere. It’s happening here in our communities,” he said in a telephone interview last week. He will also outline the history of trafficking and slavery, how it has evolved and what people can do as everyday citizens to address the issue.

Kara’s concern for the victims of sex trafficking is shared by many activists, social workers and law enforcement officials in the Spokane area. Mark Kadel, director of World Relief Spokane, said in an interview earlier this year, “Human trafficking is the fastest-growing international crime today.”

Jeremy Affeldt, a Major League Baseball player who calls Spokane home, has been active in bringing more attention to the issue of trafficking. At a public forum last fall, Affeldt said, “Society and the perpetrators are telling human trafficking victims they have no right to dream. Their dreams are squandered for the sake of greed and lust.”

In the five years since his book was published, Kara said, there has been a lot done to help raise awareness of the issue, “but there is still much we don’t know or understand about exploitation. The key thing to remember is that trafficking is run like a business. There are organized crime groups and the small-time profiteers. A lot of the model is based on supply and demand.”

The exploiter depends on demand to maximize profits, Kara said. “He has very little risk and costs for doing business. Sex and human trafficking is a high-profit, low-cost venture. The challenge is to make trafficking less rewarding financially,” he said.

Kara, an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard University, has traveled to 25 countries across six continents, visiting sex establishments such as massage parlors, as well as shelters for victims. In all, he estimates he has interviewed more than 1,000 former and current slaves of all kinds, according to a Harvard directory of faculty members. Persuading victims to open up is not always easy, a factor that Kara and social workers in Spokane are quick to point out.

The 40-year-old Kara said his field work has taken an extraordinary toll on his physical and mental health. One of the factors that has helped him cope has been “the strength, perseverance and fortitude demonstrated by so many of the victims.”

Kara said, “It takes a lot of courage for someone to open up to a stranger. I feel I have an obligation to do as much as I can to bring attention to their situation.”

Kara speaks a couple of times a month at universities, to foundations and to nongovernmental organizations. He plans to cut back on the time and travel that it takes to conduct field research and start new work on the issue of victims forced into bonded labor. Kara wants to train others to do the field work that he has done for so long.

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